John Algeo – USA

The next four verses (33-36) of The Voice of the Silence continue to develop the theme of the three Halls, but introduce new metaphors for them: darkness, deceptive light, true light, and the stormy sea of life: “[33] That which is uncreate abides in thee, disciple, as it abides in that Hall [of Wisdom]. If thou wouldst reach it and blend the two [the create and uncreate], thou must divest thyself of thy dark garments of illusion. Stifle the voice of flesh, allow no image of the senses to get between its light and thine that thus the twain may blend in one. And having learnt thine own ajnana, 21 flee from the Hall of Learning. This Hall is dangerous in its perfidious beauty, is needed but for thy probation. Beware, lanoo, lest dazzled by illusive radiance thy soul should linger and be caught in its deceptive light. [34] This light shines from the jewel of the great ensnarer (Mara). 22 The senses it bewitches, blinds the mind, and leaves the unwary an abandoned wreck. [35] The moth attracted to the dazzling flame of thy night-lamp is doomed to perish in the viscid oil. The unwary soul that fails to grapple with the mocking demon of illusion will return to earth the slave of Mara. [36] Behold the hosts of souls. Watch how they hover o’er the stormy sea of human life, and how, exhausted, bleeding, broken-winged, they drop one after other on the swelling waves. Tossed by the fierce winds, chased by the gale, they drift into the eddies and disappear within the first great vortex.”

Note 21:Ajnana is ignorance or non-wisdom, the opposite of ‘knowledge’ or jnana.” Jnana, from the root jna (cognate with English know), denotes “irrefutable intuition,” a knowledge based on direct experience and thus beyond question for the one who experiences it. The Hall of Learning offers the possibility of passing from ignorance to wisdom. But it also has all the dangers associated with learning. As the eighteenth-century poet Alexander Pope wrote, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” The most important thing to learn in the middle hall is that we are ignorant of who we are. An awareness of our own ignorance is the beginning of wisdom. We cannot learn until we realize that we do not know.

In verse 33, “that Hall [of Wisdom]” is the consciousness of one’s own individual self. That self is “uncreate” because its core is an emanation or reflection of the one Self, as distinct from the personal self, which is created anew for each lifetime. The uncreated self abides in the Hall of Wisdom—that is, it is conscious of its own reality—but it also abides in the personal self, the “disciple.” The goal of our earthly existence is consciously to unite the temporary, personal self with the abiding, individual self—to blend the two. In reality they are one, but in our personal consciousness we are unaware of our unity with our true individual self. Our awareness needs to be shifted, transformed, transmuted, resurrected—a variety of metaphors are used for this change. We are clothed in “dark garments of illusion,” which we need to take off so that the inner light (which is always there) can shine through. When the inner light shines (the light, as the Gospel of John says, that lights every personality that comes into the world), it overcomes the illusive radiance, the deceptive light of the outer personal self. We must replace the “voice of flesh” with another sound, the Voice of the Silence. The Hall of Learning is midway between the Hall of Ignorance and the Hall of Wisdom. In the Hall of Ignorance, we think we are separate and defined by the world. The Hall of Wisdom is true knowledge, the knowledge of who we are, the knowledge of our unity with others and with the one Self of the cosmos.

Note 22:Mara is in exoteric religions a demon, an asura, but in esoteric philosophy it is personified temptation through men’s vices, and translated literally means ‘that which kills’ the soul. It is represented as a king (of the Maras) with a crown in which shines a jewel of such luster that it blinds those who look at it, this luster referring of course to the fascination exercised by vice upon certain natures.” The jewel of Mara, which is ultimately selfishness—the belief that we are separate from all others and can benefit ourselves without considering others—contrasts with the jewel in the lotus of the mantra “Om mani padme hum” (Oh, the jewel in the lotus, ah!). The jewel in the lotus is a true diamond, the true self. The jewel of Mara is only a glass gem, the false personal self. The ostentatious but worthless jewel of Mara bewitches the senses (the bodily consciousness in the Hall of Ignorance) and blinds the mind (the psychic consciousness in the Hall of Learning); it can have no effect on the spiritual consciousness in the Hall of Wisdom. But it can mislead us before we reach that third Hall.

In verse 35, we return to a variation on the metaphor of light. The light of the separate self is a night-lamp that burns on “viscid oil,” in which the moth of the soul “is doomed to perish.” The soul attracted to the Hall of Ignorance is only a moth; when it is attracted to the Hall of Wisdom, it is a butterfly (a traditional image for the soul). “To perish” in the oil means to “return to earth” in another personal incarnation, with all the inclinations of the past personality recreated, including its enslavement to the demon of selfishness. In verse 36, the same theme is developed with another metaphor: that of the stormy sea of life. That image is familiar from mystical traditions all over the world. The Anglo-Saxons (who were poor sailors) had a poem called “The Seafarer,” describing the hardships of life at sea. It is clearly a symbolic poem about the hardships of all life. The point of these metaphors about flying creatures, moths or birds, being destroyed in the flame’s oil or the stormy sea is that our personal selves exist for one lifetime only. During that lifetime we have the opportunity of realizing our true nature, of entering the Hall of Wisdom. To the extent that we realize who we are, the qualities of our transitory personal self that are worth preserving are incorporated into our abiding individual self, and to that extent the personal self attains immortality. Otherwise its qualities are lost in the viscid oil, the stormy sea, to be revived only in their unredeemed nature in our next incarnation as what are called the skandhas, which are our inclinations to respond according to past habits.

The next four verses (37-40) continue the metaphors of the Halls and the stormy sea of human life introduced in verse 36, but also introduce the subject of kundalini and treat it in a way rather different from the ordinary one: “[37] If through the Hall of Wisdom, thou wouldst reach the Vale of Bliss, disciple, close fast thy senses against the great dire heresy of separateness that weans thee from the rest. [38] Let not thy ‘Heaven-born,’ merged in the sea of Maya, break from the Universal Parent (Soul), but let the fiery power retire into the inmost chamber, the chamber of the Heart 23 and the abode of the World’s Mother. 24 [39] Then from the heart that Power shall rise into the sixth, the middle region, the place between thine eyes, when it becomes the breath of the ONE-SOUL, the voice which filleth all, thy Master’s voice. [40] ’Tis only then thou canst become a ‘Walker of the Sky’ 25 who treads the winds above the waves, whose step touches not the waters.”

As verse 37 indicates, the Hall of Wisdom (knowledge of our abiding individual self) is not the end of our pilgrimage. Beyond it is the Vale of Bliss, the awareness of our unity with all other life. The “great dire heresy of separateness” is the belief that we can do anything to benefit ourselves alone, without regard to others. It is the illusion that we are independent realities. In verse 38, the “Heaven-born” is the divine spark in us, the monad, our central spiritual reality. The “Universal Parent (Soul)” is the oversoul, the anima mundi (or “soul of the world”), the divine light of which we are but a spark. We reach that Universal Parent in the Vale of Bliss. The second half of verse 38 is particularly interesting because it uses a new metaphor that sheds light on kundalini, which is often misunderstood. HPB has two helpful notes on the subject: Note 23: “The inner chamber of the heart, called in Sanskrit Brahma-pura. The ‘fiery power’ is Kundalini.” Note 24: “The ‘Power’ and the ‘World-Mother’ are names given to Kundalini—one of the mystic yogi powers. It is Buddhi considered as an active instead of a passive principle (which it is generally, when regarded only as the vehicle, or casket of the Supreme Spirit (Atma). It is an electro-spiritual force, a creative power which, when aroused into action, can as easily kill as it can create.”

Buddhi is said to be one of the most mysterious of the principles. It has, as note 24 indicates, both a passive aspect as the vehicle of Atma, as the monad or unity that is the core of our being; and an active aspect, an energy whose activation is liberation or enlightenment, reintegrating the heaven-born individual into the Universal Parent. Kundalini is metaphorically represented as a Serpent of Wisdom coiled in the lowest center (or chakra) of the body. (The word kundalini means “the coiled one.”) When this metaphorical serpent wakes up, it ascends through the seven centers (or chakras) one by one until the highest is reached and full liberation is attained. The ascent of kundalini through the chakras is a metaphor for the “alignment” or “centering” of all our principles—that is, bringing all our aspects into full harmony, so that all parts of our being function together. The awakening of kundalini (the “serpent fire”) is associated with the development of a variety of siddhis or psychic and spiritual powers.

Attempts are sometimes made to “awaken” kundalini in order to develop those powers, but that is reversing priorities. Some of the powers can be developed artificially by force, but that is not enlightenment, merely premature forcing. The natural and normal development of the siddhis is a result of the enlightenment process, and it is the process of enlightenment that is symbolized by the “awakening” of kundalini. To work at “awakening” kundalini to attain psychic powers is to mistake the means for the end, the letter for the spirit, the consequence for the cause. Keep in mind the opening words of The Voice of the Silence: “These instructions are for those ignorant of the dangers of the lower iddhi.” In The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, ed. Keith Crim (New York: Harper, 1989), the article on kundalini, written by an anthropologist at Syracuse University cautions: “The ascent of kundalini generates occult powers which the earnest Yogi must ignore, because they impede the achievement of redemption. Since partial arousal of kundalini is dangerous, kundalini yoga must not be undertaken without the guidance of a qualified Guru.” That teaching and caution that has always been given by Theosophy as well.

The “centering” of our principles occurs when the fiery power retires “into the inmost chamber, the chamber of the Heart.” The heart is a symbol of Buddhic intuition, direct knowledge of reality. That is the highest iddhi or siddhi. That retiring into the heart should happen before the lower siddhis are activated, for then they can be used in the light of the higher wisdom. Used without the light of that wisdom, the lower siddhis are not the World’s Mother (the higher siddhi of kundalini) but the serpents coiled under every flower in the Hall of Learning of verse 26.In verse 39, kundalini rises from the heart to “the place between thine eyes,” that is, the brow chakra. The latter is associated with the principle of higher manas. The active power of buddhi must first be centered in its own intuitive wisdom; then it can be transformed to an intellectual understanding of the world. Intuition (inner knowledge) precedes mentation (outer knowledge). The heart (not sentimentality, but compassionate wisdom) comes before the brain (intellection).

Kundalini is said to rise from the root chakra at the base of the spine, to the heart chakra, and thence to the sixth chakra between the eyes: that is, consciousness “rises” or refocuses from the physical to our spiritual vehicle, and thence to the individual Self. We can know who we are only by realizing that our true nature is grounded in the Ground of all Being. Our consciousness is thus reunited with the World Soul, and the breath of that World Soul is the Voice of the Silence.

An Introduction to Hinduism by Gavin Flood (Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 100) has a relevant comment on this subject: “The practice of Kundalini yoga, the raising of energy in the body, and the doctrine of an esoteric anatomy, is accompanied in hatha-yoga by a further practice, the yoga of inner or ‘unstruck’ sound (anahata nada or sabda). The absolute manifests in the form of sound in hatha and other yoga doctrines.” This “unstruck” sound is the Voice of the Silence, but the manifestation of the absolute in the form of sound is by no means limited to yoga or Indic philosophy. Both Genesis and the Gospel of John speak of God as talking or being sound, the Word. In addition, a recent theory in physics called “string theory” postulates that the whole cosmos, including us, is composed of infinitely small stretches of vibrating energy, which can be thought of as producing a music that is the harmony of nature (Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe, Norton, 2003, and the excellent Nova television program based on that book).

That primordial divine sound is the vibratory regularity and the base of all matter; it is the meaningful, intentional Word that gives reason and order to the world; it is the voice of the Master for whom we seek. The Voice of the Silence is quite clear about the identity of the Master. The Master is not some external teacher or guru. Wise teachers exist, and we can learn from them. Certain technical matters require the assistance and direction of an expert who can teach us—that is, a “guru.” But teachers can only point the way. For each of us, there is but one Master; and that Master is the One Life within us.

In verse 40, the “waves” are the waters of illusion, constantly changing in a cyclical pattern. They are the perturbations of the “stormy sea of human life” of verse 37.  The “Walker of the Sky” is above such relative and limited consciousness. That Walker, like Christ on the stormy sea of Galilee, walks above the waves, observing them and helping others tossed upon them, but is not affected by them. Some poetic descriptions of the Walker are in Note 25:Khechara or ‘sky walker’ or ‘goer.’ As explained in the 6th adhyaya of that king of mystic works the Jnaneshwari—the body of the yogi becomes as one formed of the wind; as ‘a cloud from which limbs have sprouted out,’ after which, ‘he (the yogi) beholds the things beyond the seas and stars; he hears the language of the Devas and comprehends it, and perceives what is passing in the mind of the ant’.”

The next ten verses (41-50) are concerned primarily with the metaphor of sound that is central to this first fragment from The Book of the Golden Precepts: “[41] Before thou sett’st thy foot upon the ladder’s upper rung, the ladder of the mystic sounds, thou hast to hear the voice of thy inner God [“the Higher Self”] in seven manners. [42] The first is like the nightingale’s sweet voice chanting a song of parting to its mate. [43] The second comes as the sound of a silver cymbal of the Dhyanis, awakening the twinkling stars. [44] The next is as the plaint melodious of the ocean-sprite imprisoned in its shell. [45] And this is followed by the chant of Vina. 26 [46] The fifth like sound of bamboo-flute shrills in thine ear. [47] It changes next into a trumpet-blast. [48] The last vibrates like the dull rumbling of a thunder-cloud. [49] The seventh swallows all the other sounds. They die, and then are heard no more. [50] When the six 27 are slain and at the Master’s feet are laid, then is the pupil merged into the ONE, 28 becomes that ONE and lives therein.”

Verse 41 begins with the metaphor of a ladder for the spiritual life, which suggests Jacob’s Ladder: “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28.12). The ladder metaphor is like that of the flight of stairs, used in “The Golden Stairs.” Both metaphors suggest a “rising” from earth to heaven, by distinct stages, and both allow for two-way traffic: we ascend toward heaven, but the angels or “messengers” descend to us. This ladder, however, is that “of the mystic sounds,” which are thus analogous to its rungs and afford a transition to the major metaphor of the fragment, that of the Voice. We have to hear the voice of our “inner God” in seven ways. The seven-runged ladder is a frequent symbol in Freemasonry. These rungs or sounds represent seven stages on our pilgrimage. They are also analogous to the seven principles. HPB uses the term “Higher Self” to refer to the atma or spark of the divine spirit in us—not, as the term is sometimes used in later Theosophical writing, for the individuality or reincarnating self. This Higher Self speaks to us in the seven sounds of the next verses.

The sound in verse 42 is the song of the nightingale (whose name means “night-singer”). That bird is associated with night, death, and separation. It is thus a fitting symbol for the physical world and the dense body, the “grave” of the spirit. The nightingale is singing about parting or separation from its mate, so the verse suggests the physical world’s separation from its spiritual basis. The sound in verse 43 is that of a silver cymbal. Silver is associated with the moon (as is the shape of a cymbal). The moon is associated with the linga sharira or model body, the second principle. The Dhyanis are the cosmic “meditators” who provide the model form for the creation. “Awakening the twinkling stars” suggests the first awakening of the monads, or Pilgrims of Eternity, or divine sparks, from their death-like sleep in the physical, to begin the pilgrimage of enlightenment. In verse 44 the sound is that of an ocean shell. One of the important musical instruments in Indian, Greek, and other cultures is the conch shell, which can be blown into and produces a sound that is melodious but ghostly, a “plaint.” As this sound is produced by air circulated through the whirls of the shell, it is like the vital energy or prana, which circulates through the shell of the body. The vital energy is thus imprisoned in our body, as is the spark in its various shells or bodies. Verse 45 introduces the vina, which is described in Note 26: “The Vina is an Indian stringed instrument like a lute.” There are several kinds of vinas, but a typical one has four strings on a bamboo fingerboard, plucked to produce a melody; it may also have three additional side strings plucked as accompaniment. Two or three attached gourds serve as sounding chambers. The four melody-strings connect the vina with the fourth principle of kama or desire. Even in English we talk about “plucking the heart strings,” so the association of a stringed instrument like the vina with the emotions is universal.

The bamboo flute of verse 46 is a symbol of the mind or manas, the fifth principle. Krishna (the embodiment of the divine spirit in us) is a flute player, just as the monad “plays upon” or is expressed through the manas or mind. The ear is the entrance to the head, the bodily correspondence of the mind. And the sound of the flute is said to be shrill, like the intellect, which is also symbolized by a sword that cuts or divides reality. The bamboo is very frequent in Chinese and Japanese art. Its hollow core represents the empty mind of meditation. Its jointed stalk represents the steps on the path to enlightenment. Verse 47 has a considerable change in volume: the trumpet blast, which awakens all who hear it. It is like the trumpet of the archangel on Doomsday, calling the dead from their graves. It is thus an appropriate symbol for the buddhi, which is the principle that awakens us from the sleep or death of earthly life to spiritual reality. Buddha is the one who is “enlightened” or “awakened,” and so buddhi (the trumpet blast) is that which awakens and enlightens us.

Verse 48 brings us to the seventh sound: a dull rumbling thunder. The sound of the thunder is a symbol for the voice of God or of the divine spirit within us. A story in the Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad (5.2) tells about the Voice of the Thunder: The divine father, Prajapati, had three sorts of children: the gods, human beings, and demons. When they had all completed their studies with their father, they each came to him to receive the special instruction appropriate for them. First, the gods came and said, “Tell us what we need to know.” And Prajapati thundered the syllable DA! And he asked, “Have you understood?” The gods answered, “We have understood that you said to us Damyata,” which means “control yourself,” the gods being naturally unruly and self-indulgent. Then human beings came to him and said, “Tell us what we need to know.” And Prajapati thundered the syllable DA! And he asked, “Have you understood?” The humans answered, “We have understood that you said to us Datta,” which means “give,” humans being naturally selfish and avaricious. Last the demons came to him and said, “Tell us what we need to know.” And Prajapati thundered the syllable DA! And he asked, “Have you understood?” The demons answered, “We have understood that you said to us Dayadhvam,” which means “be compassionate,” the demons being cruel and insensitive.

The heavenly Voice of the Thunder repeats to all: DA! DA! DA! Control yourselves, give, be compassionate. Those are the three great virtues: self-control, giving, and compassion. To each of us the divine father gives the same command, a rumble of thunder. But each of us hears the Voice of the Thunder is a different way, as a word that is spoken to our nature and needs. This story was referred to by T. S. Eliot in his poem The Waste Land, the last section of which is entitled “What the Thunder Said.” The thunder is a “dull rumbling” that may be below the threshold of human hearing. It is also the Voice of the Silence, as we learn in verse 49. It subsumes all the other sounds. To “die” or to be “slain” (as in the next verse) is symbol of being transformed or transmuted. We must die to the old to be reborn as the new. Shiva, the third person of the Hindu trinity is the god of both death and rebirth or transformation.

Verse 50 tells us that the goal of the ladder of the mystic sounds is to bring us to unity with the highest within us. That is made explicit in the two notes to that verse: Note 27: “The six principles; meaning when the lower personality is destroyed and the inner individuality is merged into and lost in the seventh or Spirit.” Note 28: “The disciple is one with Brahman or the Atman.”

To be continued



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